A SCANNER DARKLY -- CHAPTER 4
"So much for Donna, for Charley Freck, and -- let's see ..." Hank's metallic monotone clicked off for a second. "All right, you've covered Jim Barris." Hank made an annotation on the pad before him. "Doug Weeks, you think, is probably dead or out of this area."
"Or hiding and inactive," Fred said.
"Have you heard anyone mention this name: Earl or Art De Winter?"
"How about a woman named Molly? Large woman."
"How about a pair of spades, brothers, about twenty, named something like Hatfield? Possibly dealing in pound bags of heroin."
"Pounds? Pound bags of heroin?"
"No," Fred said. "I'd remember that."
"A Swedish person, tall, Swedish name. Male. Served time, wry sense of humor. Big man but thin, carrying a great deal of cash, probably from the split of a shipment earlier this month."
"I'll watch for him," Fred said. "Pounds." He shook his head, or rather the nebulous blur wobbled.
Hank sorted among his holographic notes. "Well, this one is in jail." He held up a picture briefly, then read the reverse. "No, this one's dead; they've got the body downstairs." He sorted on. Time passed. "Do you think the Jora girl is turning tricks?"
"I doubt it." Jora Kajas was only fifteen. Strung out on injectable Substance D already, she lived in a slum room in Brea, upstairs, the only heat radiating from a water heater, her source of income a State of California tuition scholarship she had won. She had not attended classes, so far as he knew, in six months.
"When she does, let me know. Then we can go after the parents."
"Okay." Fred nodded.
"Boy, the bubblegummers go downhill fast. We had one in here the other day -- she looked fifty. Wispy gray hair, missing teeth, eyes sunk in, arms like pipe cleaners ... We asked her what her age was and she said 'Nineteen.' We double-checked. 'You know how old you look?' this one matron said to her. 'Look in the mirror.' So she looked in the mirror. She started to cry. I asked her how long she'd been shooting up."
"A year," Fred said.
"The street stuff is bad right now," Fred said, not trying to imagine the girl, nineteen, with her hair falling out. "Cut with worse garbage than usual."
"You know how she got strung out? Her brothers, both of them, who were dealing, went in her bedroom one night, held her down and shot her up, then balled her. Both of them. To break her in to her new life, I guess. She'd been on the corner several months when we hauled her in here."
"Where are they now?" He thought he might run into them.
"Serving a six-month sentence for possession. The girl's also got the clap, now, and didn't realize it. So it's gone up deep inside her, the way it does. Her brothers thought that was funny."
"Nice guys," Fred said.
"I'll tell you one that'll get you for sure. You're aware of the three babies over at Fairfield Hospital that they have to give hits of smack to every day, that are too young to withdraw yet? A nurse tried to -- "
"It gets me," Fred said in his mechanical monotone. "I heard enough, thanks."
Hank continued, "When you think of newborn babies being heroin addicts because --"
"Thanks," the nebulous blur called Fred repeated.
"What do you figure the bust should be for a mother that gives a newborn baby a joypop of heroin to pacify it, to keep it from crying? Overnight in the county farm?"
"Something like that," Fred said tonelessly. "Maybe a weekend, like they do the drunks. Sometimes I wish I knew how to go crazy. I forget how."
"It's a lost art," Hank said. "Maybe there's an instruction manual on it."
"There was this flick back around 1970," Fred said, "called The French Connection, about a two- man team of heroin narks, and when they made their hit one of them went totally bananas and started shooting everyone in sight, including his superiors. It made no difference."
"It's maybe better you don't know who I am, then," Hank said. "You could only get me by accident."
"Somebody," Fred said, "will get us all anyhow eventually."
"It'll be a relief. A distinct relief." Going farther into his pile of notes, Hank said, "Jerry Fabin. Well, we'll write him off. N.A.C. The boys down the hall say Fabin told the responding officers on the way to the clinic that a little contract man three feet high, legless, on a cart, had been rolling after him day and night. But he never told anybody because if he did they'd freak and get the hell out and then he'd have no friends, nobody to talk to."
"Yeah," Fred said stoically. "Fabin has had it. I read the EEG analysis from the clinic. We can forget about him."
Whenever he sat facing Hank and did his reporting thing, he experienced a certain deep change in himself. Afterward was when he usually noticed it, although at the time he sensed that for a reason he assumed a measured and uninvolved attitude. Whatever came up and whoever it was about possessed no emotional significance to him during these sessions.
At first he had believed it to be the scramble suits that both of them wore; they could not physically sense each other. Later on he conjectured that the suits made no actual difference; it was the situation itself. Hank, for professional reasons, purposefully played down the usual warmth, the usual arousal in all directions; no anger, no love, no strong emotions of any sort would help either of them. How could intense natural involvement be of use when they were discussing crimes, serious crimes, committed by persons close to Fred and even, as in the case of Luckman and Donna, dear to him? He had to neutralize himself; they both did, him more so than Hank. They became neutral; they spoke in a neutral fashion; they looked neutral. Gradually it became easy to do so, without prearrangement.
And then afterward all his feelings seeped back.
Indignation at many of the events he had seen, even horror, in retrospect: shock. Great overpowering runs for which there had been no previews. With the audio always up too loud inside his head.
But while he sat across the table from Hank he felt none of these. Theoretically, he could describe anything he had witnessed in an impassive way. Or hear anything from Hank.
For example, he could offhandedly say "Donna is dying of hep and using her needle to wipe out as many of her friends as she can. Best thing here would be to pistol-whip her until she knocks it off." His own chick ... if he had observed that or knew it for a fact. Or "Donna suffered a massive vasoconstriction from a mickey-mouse LSD analogue the other day and half the blood vessels in her brain shut down." Or "Donna is dead." And Hank would note that down and maybe say "Who sold her the stuff and where's it made?" or "Where's the funeral, and we should get license numbers and names," and he'd discuss that without feeling.
This was Fred. But then later on Fred evolved into Bob Arctor, somewhere along the sidewalk between the Pizza Hut and the Arco gas station (regular now a dollar two cents a gallon), and the terrible colors seeped back into him whether he liked it or not.
This change in him as Fred was an economy of the passions. Firemen and doctors and morticians did the same trip in their work. None of them could leap up and exclaim each few moments; they would first wear themselves out and be worthless and then wear out everyone else, both as technicians on the job and as humans off. An individual had just so much energy.
Hank did not force this dispassion on him; he allowed him to be like this. For his own sake. Fred appreciated it.
"What about Arctor?" Hank asked.
In addition to everyone else, Fred in his scramble suit naturally reported on himself. If he did not, his superior -- and through him the whole law-enforcement apparatus -- would become aware of who Fred was, suit or not. The agency plants would report back, and very soon he as Bob Arctor, sitting in his living room smoking dope and dropping dope with the other dopers, would find he had a little three-foot-high contract man on a cart coasting after him, too. And he would not be hallucinating, as had been Jerry Fabin.
"Arctor's not doing anything much," Fred said, as he always did. "Works at his nowhere Blue Chip Stamp job, drops a few tabs of death cut with meth during the day --"
"I'm not sure." Hank fiddled with one particular sheet of paper. "We have a tip here from an informant whose tips generally pan out that Arctor has funds above and beyond what the Blue Chip Redemption Center pays him. We called them and asked what his take-home pay is. It's not much. And then we inquired into that, why that is, and we found he isn't employed there full time throughout the week."
"No shit," Fred said dismally, realizing that the "above-and-beyond" funds were of course those provided him for his narking. Every week small-denomination bills were dispensed to him by a machine masquerading as a Dr. Pepper source at a Mexican bar and restaurant in Placentia. This was in essence payoffs on information he gave that resulted in convictions. Sometimes this sum became exceptionally great, as when a major heroin seizure occurred.
Hank read on reflectively, "And according to this informant, Arctor comes and goes mysteriously, especially around sunset. After he arrives home he eats, then on what may be pretexts takes off again. Sometimes very fast. But he's never gone for long." He glanced up -- the scramble suit glanced up -- at Fred. "Have you observed any of this? Can you verify? Does it amount to anything?"
"Most likely his chick, Donna," Fred said.
"Well, 'most likely.' You're supposed to know."
"It's Donna. He's over there banging her night and day." He felt acutely uncomfortable. "But I'll check into it and let you know. Who's this informant? Might be a burn toward Arctor."
"Hell, we don't know. On the phone. No print -- he used some sort of rinky-dink electronic grid." Hank chuckled; it sounded odd, coming out metallically as it did. "But it worked. Enough."
"Christ," Fred protested, "it's that burned-out acid head Jim Barris doing a schizy grudge number on Arctor's head! Barris took endless electronic-repair courses in the Service, plus heavy-machinery maintenance. I wouldn't give him the time of day as an informant."
Hank said, "We don't know it's Barris, and anyhow there may be more to Barris than 'burned-out acid head.' We've got several people looking into it. Nothing I feel would be of use to you, at least so far."
"Anyhow, it's one of Arctor's friends," Fred said.
"Yes, it's undoubtedly a vengeance burn trip. These dopers -- phoning in on each other every time they get sore. As a matter of fact, he did seem to know Arctor from a close standpoint."
"Nice guy," Fred said bitterly.
"Well, that's how we find out," Hank said. "What's the difference between that and what you're doing?"
"I'm not doing it for a grudge," Fred said.
"Why are you doing it, actually?"
Fred, after an interval said, "Damned if I know."
"You're off Weeks. I think for the time being I'll assign you primarily to observe Bob Arctor. Does he have a middle name? He uses the initial --"
Fred made a strangled, robotlike noise. "Why Arctor?"
"Covertly funded, covertly engaged, making enemies by his activities. What's Arctor's middle name?" Hank's pen poised patiently. He waited to hear.
"How do you spell that?"
"I don't know, I don't fucking know," Fred said.
"Postlethwaite," Hank said, writing a few letters. "What nationality is that?"
"Welsh," Fred said curtly. He could barely hear; his ears had blurred out, and one by one his other senses as well.
"Are those the people who sing about the men of Harlech? What is 'Harlech'? A town somewhere?"
"Harlech is where the heroic defense against the Yorkists in 1468 --" Fred broke off. Shit, he thought. This is terrible.
"Wait, I want to get this down," Hank was saying, writing away with his pen.
Fred said, "Does this mean you'll be bugging Arctor's house and car?"
"Yes, with the new holographic system; it's better, and we currently have a number of them unrequisitioned. You'll want storage and printout on everything, I would assume." Hank noted that too.
"I'll take what I can get," Fred said. He felt totally spaced from all this; he wished the debriefing session would end and he thought: If only I could drop a couple tabs --
Across from him the other formless blur wrote and wrote, filling in all the inventory ident numbers for all the technological gadgetry that would, if approval came through, soon be available to him, by which to set up a constant monitoring system of the latest design, on his own house, on himself.
For over an hour Barris had been attempting to perfect a silencer made from ordinary household materials costing no more than eleven cents. He had almost done so, with aluminum foil and a piece of foam rubber.
In the night darkness of Bob Arctor's back yard, among the heaps of weeds and rubbish, he was preparing to fire his pistol with the homemade silencer on it.
"The neighbors will hear," Charles Freck said uneasily. He could see lit windows all over, many people probably watching TV or rolling joints.
Luckman, lounging out of sight but able to watch, said, "They only call in murders in this neighborhood."
"Why do you need a silencer?" Charles Freck asked Barris. "I mean, they're illegal."
Barris said moodily, "In this day and age, with the kind of degenerate society we live in and the depravity of the individual, every person of worth needs a gun at all times. To protect himself." He half shut his eyes, and fired his pistol with its homemade silencer. An enormous report sounded, temporarily deafening the three of them. Dogs in far-off yards barked.
Smiling, Barris began unwrapping the aluminum foil from the foam rubber. He appeared to be amused.
"That's sure some silencer," Charles Freck said, wondering when the police would appear. A whole bunch of cars.
"What it did," Barris explained, showing him and Luckman black-seared passages burned through the foam rubber, "is augment the sound rather than dampen it. But I almost have it right. I have it in principle, anyhow."
"How much is that gun worth?" Charles Freck asked. He had never owned a gun. Several times he had owned a knife, but somebody always stole it from him. One time a chick had done that, while he was in the bathroom.
"Not much," Barris said. "About thirty dollars used, which this is." He held it out to Freck, who backed away apprehensively. "I'll sell it to you," Barris said. "You really ought to have one, to guard yourself against those who would harm you."
"There's a lot of those," Luckman said in his ironic way, with a grin. "I saw in the L.A. Times the other day, they're giving away a free transistor radio to those who would harm Freck most successfully."
"I'll trade you a Borg-Warner tach for it," Freck said.
"That you stole from the guy's garage across the street," Luckman said.
"Well, probably the gun's stolen, too," Charles Freck said. Most everything that was worth something was originally ripped off anyhow; it indicated the piece had value. "As a matter of fact," he said, "the guy across the street ripped the tach off in the first place. It's probably changed hands like fifteen times. I mean, it's a really cool tach."
"How do you know he ripped it off?" Luckman asked him.
"Hell, man he's got eight tachs there in his garage, all dangling cut wires. What else would he be doing with them, that many, I mean? Who goes out and buys eight tachs?"
To Barris, Luckman said, "I thought you were busy working on the cephscope. You finished already?"
"I cannot continually work on that night and day, because it is so extensive," Barris said. "I've got to knock off." He cut, with a complicated pocketknife, another section of foam rubber. "This one will be totally soundless."
"Bob thinks you're at work on the cephscope," Luckman said. "He's lying there in his bed in his room imagining that, while you're out here firing off your pistol. Didn't you agree with Bob that the back rent you owe would be compensated by your --"
"Like good beer," Barris said, "an intricate, painstaking reconstruction of a damaged electronic assembly--"
"Just fire off the great eleven-cent silencer of our times," Luckman said, and belched.
I've had it, Robert Arctor thought.
He lay alone in the dim light of his bedroom, on his back, staring grimly at nothing. Under his pillow he had his .32 police-special revolver; at the sound of Barris's .22 being fired in the back yard he had reflexively gotten his own gun from beneath the bed and placed it within easier reach. A safety move, against any and all danger; he hadn't even thought it out consciously.
But his .32 under his pillow wouldn't be much good against anything so indirect as sabotage of his most precious and expensive possession. As soon as he had gotten home from the debriefing with Hank he had checked out all the other appliances, and found them okay -- especially the car -- always the car first, in a situation like this. Whatever was going on, whoever it was by, it was going to be chickenshit and devious: some freak without integrity or guts lurking on the periphery of his life, taking indirect potshots at him from a position of concealed safety. Not a person but more a sort of walking, hiding symptom of their way of life.
There had been a time, once, when he had not lived like this, a .32 under his pillow, a lunatic in the back yard firing off a pistol for God knew what purpose, some other nut or perhaps the same one imposing a brain-print of his own shorted-out upstairs on an incredibly expensive and valued cephscope that everyone in the house, plus all their friends, loved and enjoyed. In former days Bob Arctor had run his affairs differently: there had been a wife much like other wives, two small daughters, a stable household that got swept and cleaned and emptied out daily, the dead newspapers not even opened carried from the front walk to the garbage pail, or even, sometimes, read. But then one day, while lifting out an electric corn popper from under the sink, Arctor had hit his head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet directly above him. The pain, the cut in his scalp, so unexpected and undeserved, had for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. It flashed on him instantly that he didn't hate the kitchen cabinet: he hated his wife, his two daughters, his whole house, the back yard with its power mower, the garage, the radiant heating system, the front yard, the fence, the whole fucking place and everyone in it. He wanted a divorce; he wanted to split. And so he had, very soon. And entered, by degrees, a new and somber life, lacking all of that.
Probably he should have regretted his decision. He had not. That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe. All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected. It was like, he had once thought, a little plastic boat that would sail on forever, without incident, until it finally sank, which would be a secret relief to all.
But in this dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly; he could count on nothing. Like the deliberate, evil damage to his Altec cephalochromoscope, around which he had built the pleasure part of his schedule, the segment of the day in which they all relaxed and got mellow. For someone to damage that made no sense, viewed rationally. But not much among these long dark evening shadows here was truly rational, at least in the strict sense. The enigmatic act could have been done by anyone for almost any reason. By any person he knew or had ever encountered. Anyone of eight dozen weird heads, assorted freaks, burned-out dopers, psychotic paranoids with hallucinatory grudges acted out in reality, not fantasy. Somebody, in fact, he'd never met, who'd picked him at random from the phonebook.
Or his closest friend.
Maybe Jerry Fabin, he thought, before they carted him off. There was a burned-out, poisoned husk. Him and his billions of aphids. Blaming Donna -- blaming all chicks, in fact -- for "contaminating" him. The queer. But, he thought, if Jerry had gone out to get anybody it'd have been Donna, not me. He thought, And I doubt if Jerry could figure out how to remove the bottom plate from the unit; he might try, but he'd still be there now, screwing and unscrewing the same screw. Or he'd try to get the plate off with a hammer. Anyhow, if Jerry Fabin had done it, the unit would be full of bug eggs that dropped off him. Inside his head Bob Arctor grinned wryly.
Poor fucker, he thought, and his inner grin departed. Poor nowhere mother: once the trace amounts of complex heavy metals got carried to his brain -- well, that was it. One more in a long line, a dreary entity among many others like him, an almost endless number of brain-damaged retards. Biological life goes on, he thought. But the soul, the mind -- everything else is dead. A reflex machine. Like some insect. Repeating doomed patterns, a single pattern, over and over now. Appropriate or not.
Wonder what he used to be like, he mused. He had not known Jerry that long. Charles Freck claimed that once Jerry had functioned fairly well. I'd have to see that, Arctor thought, to believe it.
Maybe I should tell Hank about the sabotage of my cephscope, he thought. They'd know immediately what it implies. But what can they do for me anyhow? This is the risk you run when you do this kind of work.
It isn't worth it, this work, he thought. There isn't that much money on the fucking planet. But it wasn't the money anyhow. "How come you do this stuff?" Hank had asked him. What did any man, doing any kind of work, know about his actual motives? Boredom, maybe; the desire for a little action. Secret hostility toward every person around him, all his friends, even toward chicks. Or a horrible positive reason: to have watched a human being you loved deeply, that you had gotten real close to, held and slept with and kissed and worried about and befriended and most of all admired -- to see that warm living person burn out from the inside, burn from the heart outward. Until it clicked and clacked like an insect, repeating one sentence again and again. A recording. A closed loop of tape.
"... I know if I just had another hit ..."
I'd be okay, he thought. And still saying that, like Jerry Fabin, when three quarters of the brain was mush.
" ... I know, if I just had another hit, that my brain would repair itself."
He had a flash then: Jerry Fabin's brain as the fucked-over wiring of the cephalochromoscope: wires cut, shorts, wires twisted, parts overloaded and no good, line surges, smoke, and a bad smell. And somebody sitting there with a volt-meter, tracing the circuit and muttering, "My, my, a lot of resistors and condensers need to be replaced," and so forth. And then finally from Jerry Fabin would come only a sixty-cycle hum. And they'd give up.
And in Bob Arctor's living room his thousand-dollar custom-quality cephscope crafted by Altec would, after supposedly being repaired, cast onto the wall in dull gray on one small spot:
I KNOW IF I JUST HAD ANOTHER HIT ...
After that they'd throw the cephscope, damaged beyond repair, and Jerry Fabin, damaged beyond repair, into the same ash can.
Oh well, he thought. Who needs Jerry Fabin? Except maybe Jerry Fabin, who had once envisioned designing and building a nine-foot-long quad-and TV console system as a present for a friend, and when asked how he would get it from his garage to the friend's house, it being so huge, when built and weighing so much, had replied, "No problem, man, I'll just fold it up -- I've got the hinges bought already -- fold it up, see, fold the whole thing up and put it in an envelope and mail it to him."
Anyhow, Bob Arctor thought, we won't have to keep sweeping aphids out of the house after Jerry's been by to visit. He felt like laughing, thinking about it; they had, once, invented a routine -- mostly Luckman had, because he was good at that, funny and clever -- about a psychiatric explanation for Jerry's aphid trip. It had to do, naturally, with Jerry Fabin as a small child. Jerry Fabin, see, comes home from first grade one day, with his little books under his arm, whistling merrily, and there, sitting in the dining room beside his mother, is this great aphid, about four feet high. His mother is gazing at it fondly.
"What's happening?" little Jerry Fabin inquires.
"This here is your older brother," his mother says, "who you've never met before. He's come to live with us. I like him better than you. He can do a lot of things you can't."
And from then on, Jerry Fabin's mother and father continually compare him unfavorably with his older brother, who is an aphid. As the two of them grow up, Jerry progressively gets more and more of an inferiority complex -- naturally. After high school his brother receives a scholarship to college, while Jerry goes to work in a gas station. After that this brother the aphid becomes a famous doctor or scientist; he wins the Nobel Prize; Jerry's still rotating tires at the gas station, earning a dollar-fifty an hour. His mother and father never cease reminding him of this. They keep saying,
"If only you could have turned out like your brother."
Finally Jerry runs away from home. But he still subconsciously believes aphids to be superior to him. At first he imagines he is safe, but then he starts seeing aphids everywhere in his hair and around the house, because his inferiority complex has turned into some kind of sexual guilt, and the aphids are a punishment he inflicts on himself, etc.
It did not seem funny now. Now that Jerry had been lugged off in the middle of the night at the request of his own friends. They themselves, all of them present with Jerry that night, had decided to do it; it couldn't be either postponed or avoided. Jerry, that night, had piled every goddamn object in his house against the front door, like maybe nine hundred pounds of assorted crap, including couches and chairs and the refrigerator and TV set, and then told everybody that a giant superintelligent aphid from another planet was out there preparing to break in and git him. And more would be landing later on, even if he got this one. These extraterrestrial aphids were smarter by far than any humans, and would come directly through the walls if necessary, revealing their actual secret powers in such ways. To save himself as long as possible, he had to flood the house with cyanide gas, which he was prepared to do. How was he prepared to do this? He had already taped all the windows and doors airtight. He then proposed to turn on the water faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, flooding the house, saying that the hot-water tank in the garage was filled with cyanide, not water. He had known this for a long time and was saving it for last, as a final defense. They would all die themselves, but at least it would keep the super-intelligent aphids out.
His friends phoned the police, and the police broke down the front door and dragged Jerry off to the N.A. Clinic. The last thing Jerry said to them all was "Bring my things later on -- bring my new jacket with the beads on the back." He had just bought it. He liked it a lot. It was about all he liked anymore; he considered everything else he owned contaminated.
No, Bob Arctor thought, it doesn't seem funny now, and he wondered why it ever had. Maybe it had stemmed from fear, the dreadful fear they had all felt during the last weeks being around Jerry. Sometimes in the night, Jerry had told them, he prowled his house with a shotgun, sensing the presence of an enemy. Preparing to shoot first, before being shot. That is, both of them.
And now, Bob Arctor thought, I've got an enemy. Or anyhow I've come onto his trail: signs of him. Another slushed creep in his final stages, like Jerry. And when the final stages of that shit hits, he thought, it really does hit. Better than any special Ford or GM ever sponsored on prime-time TV.
A knock at his bedroom door.
Touching the gun beneath his pillow, he said, "Yeah?"
Mubble-mubble. Barris's voice.
"Come in," Arctor said. He reached to snap on a bedside lamp.
Barris entered, eyes twinkling. "Still awake?"
"A dream woke me," Arctor said. "A religious dream. In it there was this huge clap of thunder, and all of a sudden the heavens rolled aside and God appeared and His voice rumbled at me -- what the hell did He say? -- oh yeah. 'I am vexed with you, my son,' He said. He was scowling. I was shaking, in the dream, and looking up, and I said, 'What'd I do now, Lord?' And He said, 'You left the cap off the toothpaste tube again.' And then I realized it was my ex-wife."
Seating himself, Barris placed a hand on each of his leather-covered knees, smoothed himself, shook his head, and confronted Arctor. He seemed in an extremely good mood. "Well," he said briskly, "I've got an initial theoretical view as to who might have systematically damaged with malice your cephscope and may do it again."
"If you're going to say it was Luckman --"
"Listen," Barris said, rocking back and forth in agitation. "W-w-what if I told you I've anticipated for weeks a serious malfunction in one of the household appliances, especially an expensive one difficult to repair? My theory called for this to happen! This is a confirmation of my over-all theory!"
Arctor eyed him.
Slowly sinking back down, Barris resumed his calm and bright smiling. "You," he said, pointing.
"You think I did it," Arctor said. "Screwed up my own cephscope, with no insurance." Disgust and rage swelled through him. And it was late at night; he needed his sleep.
"No, no," Barris said rapidly, looking distressed. "You are looking at the person who did it. Buggered your cephscope. That was my complete intended statement, which I was not allowed to utter. "
"You did it?" Mystified, he stared at Barris, whose eyes were murky with a sort of dim triumph. "Why?"
"I mean, it's my theory that I did it," Barris said. "Under posthypnotic suggestion, evidently. With an amnesia block so I wouldn't remember." He began to laugh.
"Later," Arctor said, and snapped off his bedside lamp. "Much later."
Barris rose, dithering. "Hey, but don't you see -- I've got the advanced specialized electronic technical skills, and I have access to it -- I live here. What I can't figure out, though, is my motive."
"You did it because you're nuts," Arctor said.
"Maybe I was hired by secret forces," Barris muttered in perplexity. "But what would their motives be? Possibly to start suspicion and trouble among us, to cause dissension to break out, causing us to be pitted against one another, all of us, uncertain of whom we can trust, who is our enemy and like that."
"Then they've succeeded," Arctor said.
"But why would they want to do that?" Barris was saying as he moved toward the door; his hands flapped urgently. "So much trouble -- removing that plate on the bottom, getting a passkey to the front door --"
I'll be glad, Bob Arctor thought, when we get in the holo-scanners and have them set up all over this house. He touched his gun, felt reassured, then wondered if he should make certain it was still full of shells. But then, he realized, I'll wonder if the firing pin is gone or if the powder has been removed from the shells and so forth, on and on, obsessively, like a little boy counting cracks in the sidewalk to reduce his fear. Little Bobby Arctor, coming home from the first grade with his little schoolbooks, frightened at the unknown lying ahead.
Reaching down, he fumbled at the bed frame, along and along until his fingers touched Scotch tape. Pulling it loose, he tore from it, with Barris still in the room and watching, two tabs of Substance D mixed with quaak. Lifting them to his mouth, he tossed them down his throat, without water, and then lay back, sighing.
"Get lost," he said to Barris.